I remember the first time I was made to feel self-conscious about my weight. I was just seven years old and the school nurse had asked if I was fat because I ate too many sweets. Later, when I was working as a teacher, it was this painful memory that made me vow none of my students would ever be made to feel that way.
Over the years, I tried pretty much every diet going. They never worked and would usually end in a binge-eating session because I was so hungry, and with me branding myself as a failure who was destined to be overweight and miserable forever.
I wanted to do my best for the students I taught, so I focused on that – to the detriment of my life outside of school. My size meant that I was constantly exhausted, and I worked most Saturday mornings, so I often ended up cancelling any plans I had for the weekends because I was too tired to do anything. I fell into a cycle of working long hours, then just comfort eating and generally crashing on my Sundays.
My joints hurt constantly and my feet would sometimes swell up so badly, I couldn’t get my shoes on. The skin on them was all cracked, too, and my poor mum had to rub soothing lotion in for me because I couldn’t reach them myself.
Even more painful was the fat-shaming I experienced. One day, a stranger shouted abuse and threw a milkshake at me in the street. It was devastating, and it just made me seek comfort in food even more. It also underlined my own inner script: that I was ‘disgusting’, that I didn’t deserve to change and that I was incapable of it anyway.
By September 2019, I was at rock bottom. I could barely stand, let alone walk, and I couldn’t perform even basic everyday tasks. I was virtually reclusive and I’d only spend time with my partner and a small group of very close friends. I was depressed and anxious, and I had regular panic attacks. I’d written myself off completely, not really caring whether I lived or died.
My sister, Ali, was worried sick about me. In desperation she searched for my local Slimming World group and called the Consultant, Michelle, who reassured her I’d be in safe hands and that the scales definitely wouldn’t break. I was so anxious, though, and I had panic attacks and sleepless nights in the days leading up to my first group.
Mum drove me there, because I couldn’t walk the short distance to the venue and I didn’t fit behind the steering wheel to drive myself. She waited outside in the car – and did so for weeks afterwards – in case I had a panic attack while I was in there.
It was my love for my sister that got me through the door, but it was the Slimming World ethos, personified by my lovely Consultant, Michelle (and now Rayner), that kept me there. Group taught me that I was worthy of happiness and it gave me back my confidence. Apart from family and close friends, my fellow members were the first people who made me feel accepted. They just got it, were never judgemental and, as the weight came off, they cheered me on every step of the way.
A new way of eating
I absolutely love food and one of the best things about Food Optimising is that I can eat well and satisfy my appetite, so I never feel hungry. And I’ve discovered that losing weight doesn’t have to be bland! I can cook up spicy curries, slow-cooked stews and delicious pasta dishes – it’s all so tasty and filling, and totally tailored to me.
I’ve completely changed my diet and gone from eating ultra-processed, high-sugar and high-fat food to wholesome, hearty meals based around Free Foods. When I eat out, I check the menu beforehand and I have the confidence to ask for slimming-friendly swaps, using the visualisation techniques I’ve learned in group.
After hearing the other members talk about Slimming World’s Body Magic activity programme in group one week, I decided I wanted to start moving more. With my sister’s help, I began walking up and down the garden. At first, I could barely support myself and it was incredibly painful. Every week, though, we’d add in a few more steps.
Now, I do circuits – something I never imagined would be possible!
I’m even using the Couch to 5K app to train for a Race for Life in July, which I’m doing with my Consultant, Rayner, and some of my friends from group.
These days, I have a life – and all that comes with it! I have so much energy, and I laugh and smile for real. Losing weight has just erased a whole layer of weight-related anxiety, too – for example, I no longer have to worry about whether chairs will hold my weight.
I even bought a sparkly new dress to wear at Christmas last year, and it wasn’t from a plus-size shop! And it means so much to be able to do simple things, like put my own socks on, have a bath and enjoy good times with loved ones.
I want to go on mad roller coasters, particularly the one on Coney Island in New York, which I was asked to leave when I was 18 because of my size. I want to ride a horse, go to the opera, do a bungee jump…
I get really excited for people who’ve just joined Slimming World, because I know the joy that’s awaiting them as they go on their own journeys and live the lives they want – and deserve. So excited, in fact, that I’ve decided to help others by training to be a Slimming World Consultant. I can’t wait to pay forward all the love and support that my friends, family and group have given me.
Harriet’s day on a plate
I used to skip breakfast, thinking it would help with my weight loss.
Fruit and fat-free natural yogurt, or a full English with grilled lean bacon (visible fat removed), eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, and baked hash browns using my Syns.
Shop-bought sandwich, crisps and sweets.
A Chinese takeaway.
Watch Harriet tell her moving story
Weight loss will vary according to your individual circumstances and how much weight you have to lose.